“Nuclear deal is not an issue of the people”; BJP opposed to “surrender of strategic autonomy”
NEW DELHI: “My own feeling all along has been that the nuclear deal is not an issue of the people” but “the whole thing has been dragging on in a manner as to make even the common man feel that the government is not concerned with anything else. The common man, particularly agonised by prices and his day-to-day life, feels: ‘What kind of government is this, which seems so obsessed with one agreement that nothing else seems to matter to it?’ ”
This is the assessment of Lal Krishna Advani, the formidable Leader of the Opposition and the man who will be the next Prime Minister should the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance trump the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in the 15th general election, whenever it comes. The 80-year-old BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister was responding to questions on the politics of the nuclear deal, the current political crisis, and various political and ideological issues in an in-depth interview given to The Hindu at his residence on Wednesday.
Elaborating on the implications of the nuclear deal, he observed that “after all, the proposal is, ‘We are short of energy sources and nuclear energy will provide us the wherewithal — after 25 years!’ And that too a small percentage of our requirements. It is welcome, whatever it is. But it is not crucial, it is not vital for the people.”
Expressing relief over the inauguration of “a new chapter” in national politics, Mr. Advani noted that this chapter would “depend very much” on whether the government would be able to survive the vote of confidence that is expected to be taken in the Lok Sabha later this month. “Today it seems it’s a close contest, at least on the face of it,” he observed, making it clear he would not speculate on the outcome.
Asked if the Congress and the UPA could improve their political stock in the event of the Manmohan Singh government surviving the confidence vote, he responded: “What improvement can come about at this point of time? It’s the fag end.”
Asked for a realistic assessment of the political prospects of the BJP and the NDA at this juncture, Mr. Advani answered: “In a country like ours, such a large electorate, so many States to bear in mind, it’s never easy, particularly when you don’t know when the elections are going to be held — in November or some time next year? — to be precise or even close to precision insofar as the outcome of an election is concerned. But I’ve seen elections right from ’52, every election I’ve seen. I have never seen so much despair in the people and so much disillusionment in the people with an incumbent government as with the present government.”
He asserted that “there was a feeling of buoyancy” during the six years of NDA rule but in the last four years “there has been a feeling of despair.”
He mentioned that when BJP supporters expressed concern over “inheriting a very difficult situation, in the field of economy as well as in the field of foreign policy and several other fields,” his response was that all these problems had to be tackled but the real challenge was to “recreate hope.”
Mr. Advani strongly reiterated the basis of the BJP’s opposition to the nuclear deal, which was different from that of the Communist parties. “Our objection,” he explained, “has not been to the strategic relationship, which 123 may involve. We are opposed to the 123 agreement because it is also preceded by the Hyde Act ... in the name of energy autonomy, you are surrendering our strategic autonomy.”
The Leader of the Opposition sharply criticised the Manmohan Singh government for the way it went about developing the nuclear deal. It refused to have a parliamentary committee examine all the issues, contending that “no committee could be formed in respect of a proposed international agreement.” Then it formed a UPA-Left committee, which dragged on for many months and led nowhere. “It’s a very curious way of running the government,” Mr. Advani remarked.
In this context, Mr. Advani elaborated on one of his ideas, which was to have Indian legal experts examine whether India’s own Atomic Energy Act could be amended “in such a way as to insulate India from the consequences of the Hyde Act.”
Asked how the BJP would go about “renegotiating” a done deal if it came to power, the opposition party’s top leader indicated that the track would be exploring the option of “having our own law, which insulates us from the consequences of the Hyde Act.”